The Talented Mr. Rennie

Published on May 30th, 2012 in: Canadian Content, Issues, Movies, True Patriot Love, TV, Underground/Cult |

By Melissa Bratcher

At a certain point in my life, I made anyone who spent any amount of time at my house watch the movie Hard Core Logo. This continued for a couple of years. I couldn’t articulate what I liked best about it, but it seemed important that every one of my friends be exposed to it. I love the relationship of Joe and Billy, unhinged John and the ridiculous Pipefitter, as well as the Joey Ramone cameo. The music was good, the story was engrossing, and I loved it.

callum keith rennie hard core logo
Hard Core Logo, 1996

I think, though, the thing I liked best was Callum Keith Rennie. He was completely mesmerizing. Handsome, rangy, and angular, but he was more than that. He had intensity, a barely subdued violence just bubbling under the surface. Every time he showed up, he was the most interesting person on the screen.

That marks most everything I’ve seen him in. As soon as he appears in a scene, most of the other actors fade away. There are actors that can hold their own with him, but he makes them blunted and pale. He’s not showy, though. He’s charismatic. Watchable. Interesting.

He’s got a far reaching list of credits, though not all of them are things I’ve watched or wanted to. In my obsession with him, however, I’ve watched a lot. And some of them I’m not too proud of. But some things he’s done have been amazing.

callum keith rennie double happiness
Sandra Oh and Callum Keith Rennie in
Double Happiness, 1994

He appeared with Sandra Oh in 1994’s Double Happiness, one of those amazing films. He’s Oh’s slightly geeky, floppy-haired, glasses-wearing boyfriend. When watching him in the movie, it isn’t at all surprising that (spoiler alert) Sandra’s character would crush the wishes of her traditional Chinese parents to date him. He’s adorable and charming.

The Canadian film scene of the 1990s seemed small and incestuous, with actors working together over and over. I’ve always meant to make a Venn diagram of this. Callum has worked with Sandra Oh in the under-seen Last Night as well as Wilby Wonderful. In Last Night, he’s a man dealing with the end of the world by fulfilling all of his sexual fantasies. He won a well-deserved Genie award for this role, and watching the scene in which he and Don McKellar say goodbye to each other for what is probably the last time, it’s easy to see why. He conveys so much with his eyes, the set of his jaw, and a subtle tilt and shake of his head (which is a mannerism that he uses frequently, to great effect).

Which brings us to Don McKellar (See? We do need a Venn diagram). McKellar wrote and starred in Twitch City, a genius show about a TV-obsessed manchild, Curtis, who won’t leave his apartment. Rennie is in this as Newbie, a convenience store clerk who briefly lives with Curtis and his roommate Hope (Molly Parker, and more on her in a moment). The TV Olympics episode is classic and ridiculous. Rennie and McKellar later worked together on eXistenZ and Trigger.

callum keith rennie twitch city
Newbie on Twitch City

In the Canadian Venn-ima, Callum overlaps with Molly Parker, from Twitch City to lots of other things, among them Suspicious River, a weird, disturbing little movie full of sexy sex. It’s a difficult movie to watch, but as always, Rennie is brilliant. He’s creepy and awful and still somehow charming. Parker and Rennie did two television series together (neither of which I’ve seen), Shattered and The Firm; sadly both have been cancelled.

Molly Parker brings us back to Hard Core Logo. She’s briefly in it, doing a cameo as a band member for Callum’s character Billy Tallent’s other band, Jennifur. Billy Tallent is, for me, his most indelible character. He’s a revelation as the messed-up guitarist trying to not get sucked back into bad habits after reuniting with his old band. The band, Hard Core Logo, is presented as Canadian punk pioneers, and for a fake band, they’re awfully good. Hugh Dillon (from Canadian band the Headstones) is the perfect foil for Rennie as Joe Dick. They are great together: Callum’s icy calm with Hugh’s fiery menace. There is a scene the actors improvised in a bar that is one of my favorite scenes on film (and part of it has become a bit of my vernacular. I love it when movies do that). It’s a stunning film, directed by Bruce McDonald.

Bruce McDonald pops up in Rennie’s list of credits more than once. He directed Trigger, which, I’ve read, he had originally envisioned as a movie about Joe and Billy from Hard Core Logo. While that didn’t pan out, Callum shows up as Billy Tallent again in a brief cameo. The movie could have used a bit more of him. McDonald also directed Picture Claire, in which Callum plays a baddie. It’s a disjointed, not terribly good film, which McDonald distanced himself from, going as far as to recut it from the theatrical version into something more coherent. Callum, of course, is good. He gives good baddie.

In one of his baddie roles as Mamet in Men With Guns, Rennie gives such a mesmerizing performance, it’s as if he’s in a totally different movie. A good movie. It’s not that the movie is terrible, but it’s not breaking any new ground plotwise (two small time losers get caught up in more crime than they can handle). Donal Logue is pretty good in it, but Callum is AMAZING in it. His character is damaged but sweet, and he is the heart of the film, though not the protagonist. You can order a copy online for less than $10, and you really should. He’s brilliant.

When he went to Hollywood, he played a small but important role in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Hollywood wasn’t really the place for Rennie, though (I believe he’s simply too talented), and he came back to Canada. He made interesting choices, like Flower and Garnet and Falling Angels, both tonally similar movies in which he played a father, though not the best father in the world. The lovely Wilby Wonderful is from this time period as well, and Callum played against type again as a shy, dyslexic painter called Duck.

callum keith rennie bsg
With Starbuck (Katee Sackoff) on Battlestar Galactica, 2003

Then of course, there was the reboot of Battlestar Galactica (do we even have to say “reboot” anymore?). He was slowly burning, creepy wonderful, philosophical Leoben Conoy, one of the original eight humanoid Cylons. I always longed for a Galactica spin-off of Leoben and Starbuck (with whom he was obsessed, helping her discover her destiny) flying through the universe, solving crimes.

Battlestar Galactica wasn’t Rennie’s first series that aired extensively in the US, though. He stepped into the third season of Due South as Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski, and changed the tone of the show. This was much of the world’s first exposure to Callum, though not mine. I was still bitter over the ending of Northern Exposure.

For every brilliant role that Rennie does, there are some dreadful projects, but he’s been working steadily since 1994 and they can’t all be gems (like season two of AMC’s The Killing). No matter how terrible the project, however, I will wager that Callum Keith Rennie is somehow fantastic in it.

callum keith rennie

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